New Orleans rapper Dee-1 finally pays back student loans, celebrates with Tiger Stadium-shot music video _lowres

Photo by Brittany Baham -- Dee-1

New Orleans hip-hop artist Dee-1 puts a different spin on rap. Rapping for a higher purpose, he writes positive rhymes about being real, righteous and relevant.

An LSU graduate and former middle school teacher in East Baton Rouge Parish, Dee-1, aka David Augustine, went pro with his rap music in 2011. That was the year he released his popular, 18-track-strong mixtape “I Hope They Hear Me Vol. 2.”

Succeeding indie releases, including “The Focus Tape” (featuring DJ Mannie Fresh) and “Psalms of David” (including the hit “Work,” featuring Lecrae), brought Dee-1 further into the limelight.

In February, RCA Inspiration released Dee-1’s major-label debut, the six-song EP “3’s Up.” His Essence Festival debut, Sunday in the Art of Hip-hop Superlouge, follows his March headlining tour. Previously a supporting act for nationwide tours featuring Macklemore, Lupe Fiasco and others, Dee-1’s first headlining tour and Essence debut are two more big steps forward.

“It’s like moving out of your mom’s house,” he said a few weeks ago in New Orleans. “For real, it’s another level of independence.”

Dee-1’s journey to becoming a nationally known rapper began in 2005. That year, while he was a student at LSU, the rapper’s best friend was killed during a robbery; floodwaters covered New Orleans, his hometown; he broke up with his high school sweetheart; and he was the victim of an armed robbery.

“All those life experiences caused me to want to turn to hip-hop as a form of expression,” he said. “It wasn’t by any means a career or something I was even good at, but that’s when I first started with it, yeah.”

Following his graduation with a business-marketing degree from LSU in 2008, Dee-1 began two years of teaching at Baker Middle School.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “I love working with the youth. I love the challenge that comes with being able to relate to them, engage them and educate them. It’s a three-part job.”

During his teaching years, Dee-1 worked at hip-hop part-time. He had no professional aspirations at first.

“I started becoming more and more busy with music-related stuff,” he said. “The performance opportunities or conferences I would attend, they didn’t mesh well with me being a full-time teacher. So it kind of led me more and more to making a decision.”

Meanwhile, Dee-1 was becoming a formidable rap artist.

“It’s like the 10,000 hours rule,” he said. “Whatever you put your time and your energy towards, you’re going to get better and better at it.”

Some people discouraged Dee-1 from leaving teaching to be a full-time rapper, but most encouraged him.

“I have a pretty level head on my shoulders, so people knew that I wouldn’t be doing this frivolously,” he said. “They knew that I would want to make a difference if I was going to choose a bold career change like this. I had a purpose for it.”

And then Dee-1’s mixtape, “I Hope They Hear Me Vol. 2,” was indeed heard.

“That’s the project that really elevated me to the next level,” he said.

When Dee-1 listened to rap in his younger years, he enjoyed it despite the violence and negativity that often filled the lyrics.

“I grew up around so much of it that, listening to it, I was numb to it to a large degree,” he recalled.

But then he chose a different path for his own rap.

“I didn’t want to be the one who was perpetuating those messages,” he said. “When you’re taking in what’s going on and not just running the rat race, life is a spiritual experience. Love is a spiritual experience. I’ve tapped into that. It makes me want to utilize my musical platform, my gift, for good.”